We slept fast last night because we had to be up early to start our bike tour today. We got ready and went down around 7:15 to try and snag some breakfast at the hotel (they told us they opened at 7). The restaurant part was closed up. So – we wandered the street for a bit and couldn’t find anything open. We knew we needed to eat before riding so we Janel and Rich ended up heading next door to the ubiquitous 7-11 (they are EVERYWHERE) and grab a few “food” items and an iced coffee for me.
The van from Amazing Bike Tours shows up right on time and we meet our host (James) and his driver (Nong) and co-leader (Lek). We like them all immediately. We alse met the other two riders on this trip – Gunther (living in Phuket, but from Germany) and Vicki (dive instructor in Phuket). We like them, too. Yeah! When you are living with a small group like this for a few days it can make or break the trip if the personalities clash. We already can see that we are in for a great time. Our bags are quickly stowed and we are on our way.
We first have about an hour van ride north to the Khao Lak area. We stop in a beautiful area off the road where it is shady and nice. Finally time to ride! Janel has had a relapse of her flu symptoms and opts to ride in the van with Nong – no problem. She has a book and Nong is very nice. James and Lek get all our bikes unloaded from the top of the van and we prepare ourselves.
Right away I am thinking that this won’t be so bad. It is shady, warm – but not really too hot. I can handle it. James give a quick briefing on the gears, etc. I think I get it. Give me my bike and let’s go! Vicki is a little concerned since she hasn’t really used gears before and vows that she will ride for “ten minute, ten minute.”
Ok – so we start off in a relatively shady, jungle-y area and are riding on basically a hard-packed surface. Pretty easy and not really too unbearably hot. James warns us that up ahead is a pretty rough patch with lots of sandy areas – how bad can it be? Well. . . I found myself zooming along quite nicely right up until I hit the sand. The back tire fishtails and I come to an abrupt stop. Not fun. I get off and walk my bike through the sand. Fortunately the sandy areas are over with very soon and I am back in the saddle.We get back on the hardpack and the riding is easy but HOT. I don’t think I have ever been this sweaty. It is probably 98 degrees and 98% humidity. I continually refill my water bottle from the van that is following us – I probably drank 5 whole bottles of water in the course of an hour and don’t even have to pee (too much sweat).
When we finally stop I realize that Vicki has been in the van after riding “ten minute.” She got a little spooked since we started out on a hill and she was out of control. She says she will try again after lunch. Janel has enjoyed her company in the van and they are having fun with Nong who doesn’t speak English (Vicki speaks both Thai and English).
The place we stopped was a rubber tree forest. There are about 100 rubber trees each equipped with a cut out strip around the trunk and a little 1/2 coconut “dish.” Lek shows us how the rubber is made to start dripping and challenges Janel to harvest some. You have to make a deep cut along where the bark is trimmed and then kind of guide the “juice” to fall into the dish. Lek tells us that all of the 100 trees are harvested by hand with the workers usually starting in the middle of the night to escape the heat. (did I mention it is HOT?)
Time to saddle up again and ride to the lunch spot. We have probably ridden only abou 15 miles, but it feels like 150 in this heat and I don’t see a sign of any kind of restaurant looming on the horizon. But I put my head down and keep on pedalling. We ride through some small villages and many people greet us with “Sawasdeeka” (hello) and lots of children wave to us. Kind of keeps me going. (not really – the whole time I am thinking that I signed up for this mess and that Rich will owe me BIG TIME when this is over – if it ever is over – when will it be over?)
Finally, we pull way off the main road to a restaurant that is literally in the middle of nowhere. James has pre-arranged our arrival with the staff. It is in a beautiful garden area and is shady and “cool.” Oh – and there are real toilets (I’ll let you ponder that one. . .)I am really not feeling hungry, but once I cool down and there are plates and platters of food on the table suddenly my appetite soars. The food is awesome! Some of the best we have had. We are very suprised and happy. My favorite dish of the entire trip is presented – deep fried soft shell crab – outstanding! We also have some kind of curry, tom yum goong (prawn soup), omelet, and another soft shell crab dish that is fantastic. We eat and eat.
After lunch we lounge around for quite a bit and the bikes are loaded onto the van again. We drive for a bit and then stop to unload the bikes. James tells us that the next portion is a long downhill into Khao Sok National Park– great! We first stop at a beautiful vista before flying downhill.
We ride through a small village at the entrance to the National Park that is really cool. We like this place. We ride onward on a gravel road deep into the forest wherewe find our accommodations – Our Jungle Lodge. Wow! We are lead through a dirt path through the jungle to our treehouses. Janel has her own treehouse that is connect to ours by a little bridge with a door. They are situated right on a flowing stream backed by a limestone mountain. The view is tremendous.
James has informed us that there is another planned ride today if we want. It will be pretty tough and mountain bike-ish. I quickly decline and decide the bed looks better than the bike (although just as hot). Rich, of course, decides to ride with Lek, James, Gunther, Nong and Vicki. Janel and I nap. I opened up all our windows figuring that it is too early for the mosquitoes, but it is too hot to sleep. I make my way down to the reception and sit at the bar with a cold “Singha” beer. Yum. Much better than riding.When the riders return we understand that they have had a great (albeit tough) ride. Vicki hung in for the whole thing and everyone is proud of her. Rich says that some of the down hills on rough terrain were pretty hairy until he decided he had to just “go for it.” He loved it – since he is a road biker this kind of riding is way different and calls for different techniques. James gave him some hints.
As a sideline – we are making up for several days right now. Janel is furiously writing up the Thursday, Rich is writing Saturday and I just finished Friday. We are in Phuket at the same guest house where we started in Phuket. It is HOT and I am sitting at the bar with no a/c (fortunately our room is air-conditioned). We have a pool and plan to spend the remainder of today and probably tomorrow in the pool just relaxing.
Also – the new March issue of LookEast magazine is now online. Janel was sick for a couple of weeks and therefore only has one article – but it is a good one. One of the wine bars she reviewed is the same one we visited in Bangkok – Opus. Here is the link to her article http://www.lookeastmagazine.com/images/features/P.%2054-56%20Wine%20Bars.pdf